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A Log’s Life: A short history of a New York Christmas classic

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It’s November 1966 and New York is a “fun city,”  as Mayor John Lindsay says.

WPIX general manager Fred Thrower is tossing around an idea — a televised Christmas Eve Yule Log set to a holiday music soundtrack to warm the living rooms of fireplace-deprived New Yorkers.

A month later, a WPIX crew is at Gracie Mansion,  shooting the first version of the log — a 17-second loop — that will become the first ever televised Yule Log on at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 24, 1966.

So move over roller derby — and so long $4,000 in ad revenue. A holiday tradition was born,  and it’s an instant hit.

Yule-Log-OriginalFor 23 more years, viewers would tune in as presents were opened and friends gathered round.

1989 turned out to be what was intended to be its final airing, and copies of the log became bootleg must-haves.

The 1990s were “the dark ages,” as viewers lamented how Christmas in New York was just not the same.   But one of those viewers, Joe Malzone, decided to do something about it, and founded a Web site in which he encouraged petitions to Channel 11 to “bring back the log.”

Just a few months after Sept. 11, a scarred city would learn the effort was successful.

Christmas was complete again. This year, the log has been expanded to three hours, with the complete 1973 soundtrack assembled with the help of music historian Lawrence “Chip” Arcuri.

The log has spawned many imitators, and now seem to be a permanent part of U.S. holiday culture — available on the Web, in high def, and even on iPods.  Thrower, it seems, did the right thing in pre-empting roller derby that night in another New York.

Note: Repurposed from piece published by this author in amNewYork

1 Comment

  • Maxx

    The Yule Log deserves to be back on Christmas Eve, as does the showing of The Bishops's Wife whch was for years the movie that aired before The Yule Log. For that matter WPIX should recreate it wonderful Thanksgiving line up of "March of The Wooden Soldiers" at 12pm or 12:30pm because a lot of people watch the parade that morning. Then show "Hans Christian Anderson" after "Soldiers." And on New Years Day give the news a break and air a true "Honeymooners" marathon not this 11pm to 4am New Years Eve, the 9am – 5pm meaning that only 26 episodes air, since you stopped airing the show weekly we need to see all 39 episodes!!!!

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